Rallying Call to International Pipe Band Movement as it Faces Toughest Period in History

The worldwide pipe band movement is facing the biggest challenge in its history the Chairman of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, Mr John B. Hughes, said today. In a wide-ranging interview with Piping Press, Mr Hughes revealed that as a result of the pandemic:

  • The World Solo Drumming scheduled for this October may have to be postponed
  • Bands might have to get used to a more hygienic formation than the circle
  • Outdoor contests could take place without an audience
  • Band numbers might have to be reduced with increased spacing between players
  • Running a beer tent could pose particular difficulties for contest promoters

Mr Hughes said that although HQ staff in Washington Street, Glasgow, were furloughed, the RSPBA’s Board of Directors were meeting every month to keep the work of the Association moving forward. They were in close contact with the devolved Scottish administration and were working alongside other major events such as the Edinburgh Festival and the Edinburgh Tattoo to establish new parameters within which they can operate safely.



But following the wipe-out of all major championships in 2020, there was, at the moment, still no firm guidance of where we would be come this September and October.

Mr Hughes: ‘There is no doubt at all that we are facing the most serious situation ever in the history of the pipe band movement. We have had difficulties in the past, but, WW2 aside, nothing, I mean nothing, comes close to what we are going through at the moment. 

‘The controversy over the Worlds and Cowal, the Millennium Review and other hot issues come to mind, but nothing on this scale. I cannot remember in the entire history of the RSPBA us having to cancel one championship never mind a whole season.

‘But I have a message to all bands, and it is this. We are in there fighting and when we emerge from this trial, as emerge we will, the Association will be here for you. 

‘Myself and Vice Chairman Paul Brown are in almost daily contact. Our target is to have a championship on the grass come May 2021 and a full season thereafter.

The British Championships at Paisley in 2019….doing this again in 2021 is the RSPBA’s target

‘Everything that we do is geared towards this. We thank the bands for their patience and support so far. We need them to keep practising, to keep their hopes of competition alive.

‘If we need a ‘new normal’ then so be it. This could mean the end of the circle. Aerosol from pipers breath makes the position of the bass drummer particularly precarious! Everyone facing in the same direction could be safer.

‘Judges may need to be placed a set distance apart. If stewards and officials need PPE then that can be done. There may even be a need to have a competition without any audience, or one whereby the audience needs to wear masks. 

‘The beer tent might not be possible unless there is social distancing. But I can’t imagine pipers and drummers all standing about in separate hula hoop spaces. We just do not yet know what will be asked of us, but we will, of course, comply with all regulations. This goes without saying. Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our members and staff.

‘We are ready to do whatever the Government asks us to do but we are determined, if it is in any way possible, to have a 2021 contest season.

‘Our next big event is the World Solo Drumming in October but we are having to keep an open mind about it. It will be next to impossible to have any social distancing among competitors, never mind having an audience. A postponement till December or January might be an option. 

‘In conclusion I say this to the bands: do not lose your enthusiasm; keep going; keep your standards up. Perhaps in a few weeks here in Scotland we will be allowed small, outdoor mini band practices – brass bands have already been given this dispensation in England. 

‘We are communicating with the highest levels of officialdom and we in turn will be communicating with the bands and to our affiliated associations worldwide as soon as we have any new information to pass on.

‘The pipe band movement is one of the glories of our traditional music heritage. We are doing everything we can to return it to its rightful place in our cultural life and to do so as soon as possible.’ 

  • Do you have any thoughts on the above? If so, please use our comment facility below.

7 thoughts on “Rallying Call to International Pipe Band Movement as it Faces Toughest Period in History

  1. Interesting to note the usual ones on social media still don’t grasp the basics of the small companies within Part 15 of the Companies Act (2006), the nature of Financial Reporting in the Balance Sheet at a year end in terms of cash at bank, or how the OSCR has to conduct and feedback on any concerns.

    It would not make sense from a governance point of view to run a zoom type AGM since you can guarantee audio and/or video would surface quicker than you can say “mid-section going to shut up for a minute”, likely being twisted to suit their agendas.

    While there are questions needing answered by the RSPBA, a couple of people with agendas and clear business interests linked to competitions will not be the ones to dictate how and when this is done.

  2. To:John Hughes…No question the Pipe Band circle Worldwide are heavily impacted by this Coronavirus issue
    And thousands of Pipers and drummers and fans in every corner of the globe are affected by this ‘conundrum’! May I be bold enough to suggest a ‘tune writing’ project competition go out to keep everyone engaged and in contact and without a doubt the introduction of many new tunes to Piping Repetoires aorund the world.A suggestion from the Shores of New Scotland(Nova Scotia) where the ship Hector landed in 1773 with some 200 hardy souls seeking a new home and new opportunities,and whose descendants are still here.
    A Black Spititual just may provide the impetus for moving this ‘idea’ to ‘action’! “it takes just a little Spark to get a Fire going”!
    Slainte!
    JackMacIsaac
    Caribou Island Nova Scotia

  3. Regarding band sizes, I think we should talk about capping how many players can take the field, and not how many players a band can have on their roster. This would eliminate the need to maintain a roster. On the day, all officials would need to do in regards to this, is make sure each band is not over “the max” for pipers, drummers etc. How many bands can one person play in on any given day anyway? Surely you won’t have a player turning up in two bands in the same grade. This would certainly free things up quite a bit. Cap the number of players who are allowed to take the field in each grade.

    1. I have a lot of empathy for your thoughts on pipe band numbers Ross. I too have been concerned for some time about the impact of the “Big” band era. For quite while I believed that the ever increasing budget costs to many of the individuals, who played the “Big” scene, would be the most natural way to impose maximum limits. This has not happened as yet. However, the 2020 Covid 19 – Lockdown and the after shocks will, I believe, also have a significant effect on this issue.
      Any spectator or bandsman who has been closely involved during the “Big Band Era” must surely admit to being partial to the enjoyment, excitement and sheer inspiration that the”Big Bands” of Grade 1 and 2 provided. Though, if we evaluate the impact on the whole band movement/membership it is much less inspiring.
      In has not gone unnoticed in the RSPBANI that the number of bands now registering at Grade 2 and 3 in particular have decreased markedly. Other branches may well be observing the same negative effects. Why ? Over time those grades have been powerless to stop the haemorrhaging of the best quality pipers and drummers. The loss of such quality players in conjunction with the contribution of their leadership input has been detrimental to the Grades 2, 3 and 4. It seems the juvenile grades have
      escaped this erosive determinant largely due to the age profile. Still it is now time to have an all grade discussion on the issue. How ‘big’ does ‘big’ really need to be? What should the optimum numbers be? How do we protect our jewel in the crown at Grade 1 while at the same time reinvigorating the lower grade bands. Aren’t we all in this together?…..No mumbling behind closed doors or wringing of hands permitted ! Get on board the debate. A wholehearted, honest discussion is required for the ‘good health’ of all pipe bands.

  4. Keep your shoulder to the wheel and always put people’s safety first. Plan for tomorrow but live today.

  5. A great article, and I am sure under the leadership of John Hughes and his board of directors, the RSPBA will gain strength from this pandemic, and come back stronger in 2021.

  6. It is truly a devastating time for pipe bands, unprecedented in their long and proud history. In contrast to many reports/opinions, I am an optimist and I predict (hope) that the piping and pipe band situation will be back to normal in 2021. An effective vaccine may be found, the virus may burn itself out (like SARS and MERS), or a strong herd immunity may have developed in the population. Whatever happens, we cannot let this terrible virus destroy an important part of Scottish culture and heritage.

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